This is a difficult time to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer in the US, and the LGBTQ+ community has never been in more need of support. Studies show that at least 7% of the population falls into one or more of these groups, and the good news is that as a family nurse practitioner (FNP), you could be in a position to help.
From tackling family estrangement to ensuring proper access to services, providing education and building confidence, you can deliver improved health and the social support that helps to keep it that way. This article looks at how FNPs can promote inclusive care for LGBTQ+ people.
Respecting and affirming identity
For many LGBTQ+ patients, respecting and affirming their identity is huge: just respecting them for who they are makes a huge difference to their confidence and supports good relationship building and positive health outcomes. Every patient should feel free to be able to talk to you about day-to-day aspects of their life without having to be guarded and cautious about what they say.
Because you usually can’t tell a person’s gender or sexuality from looking at them, try to be open about the possibilities with every patient, avoiding comments that imply that you expect them to have a certain relationship structure or a certain preferred way of presenting themselves. This means that LGBTQ+ people won’t feel forced to choose between obfuscating or risking a confrontation and will more easily trust you. When you know that somebody is trans, use the pronouns that fit their presentation, and if in doubt, ask.
Addressing the effects of prejudice
Same-sex attraction and being transgender are no longer classified as mental illnesses, but LGBTQ+ people are more likely to experience mental illness than their peers. This is because, even if they are lucky enough to have supportive families, friends and work or study environments, most will still experience daily microaggressions. A hostile look, a nasty comment or being left out of a social activity may seem easy to brush off, but when such things happen all day, every day, the cumulative effect can be really damaging.
It is particularly severe for people who also belong to additional minority groups, such as disabled people and people of color. Be aware that this means that your LGBTQ+ patients are more likely to be tired and fractious, if not actually anxious or depressed, and make sure that this isn’t misinterpreted as relating to the treatment they need.
Educating and advising on specific health needs
LGBTQ+ people have a range of specific needs for which they may struggle to find accurate information, especially if they live in places where there is no established LGBTQ+ community. They may not know how to practice safer sex, and may be at risk of being pressured into things they don’t want to do because they have a skewed idea of what’s normal for people like them.
Trans people may need advice on how to go about accessing hormones safely rather than feeling forced to look for help on the internet. Some trans people get into trouble by resorting to unlicensed plastic surgery, and they need to know about the alternatives. Family members often want to be supportive but need help to understand the practical options available to their loved ones. They also need to be able to recognize signs of self-harm and know when and how to intervene.
Ensuring inclusivity in service provision
Alongside their specific needs, LGBTQ+ people need many of the same healthcare services as other people, yet they may struggle to access them. When it comes to pap smears, for instance, lesbians should get them as often as other women, and it is important for doctors to promote this to non-heterosexual couples.
Trans men and non-binary people who have a cervix, meanwhile, often struggle to access such services because they are excluded from promotional information or they feel uncomfortable entering spaces in which everything is focused on women. They can have difficulty accessing fertility services for the same reason, or due to misinformation about what is possible for them, while gay and bisexual people may not know their rights in relation to IVF and surrogacy. By tackling these issues, nurses can help families to grow and stay healthy.
Advocating for the patient
An important part of the role of any FNP is patient advocacy, but this is all the more vital in contexts where those patients are less likely to be respected or to be believed when articulating their own experiences and needs. American International College (AIC) is committed to providing educational services that reflect the needs of a diverse population and ensure students are taught how to deliver excellent primary care to all people. When you join AIC’s online FNP program, you will benefit from instruction aimed at building up your skills in preparation for just this type of challenge.
You will develop the listening skills and persuasive ability that will enable you to become a great negotiator, helping estranged family members to understand each other and recognize the love that may well still exist between them. You will acquire the calm authority that provides reassurance to people uncertain about the best way forward for their family members, as well as the broad knowledge base that helps people decide on the best way forward for themselves. You’ll also learn the research skills that you’ll need to keep up in a changing world.
When you have the skills and commitment to support LGBTQ+ people, you can provide an anchor point in a turbulent world. You will also be supporting their family members and everybody who loves or depends on them, at home or at work. You will pave the way to better physical and mental health outcomes while also helping to build a healthier, more inclusive society. Most people become nurses because they want to put people first, and by ensuring that every person gets the support they need, regardless of the prejudice that exists elsewhere, you can reaffirm nursing as a profession dedicated to equality and fairness.